Book: The Holy in a Pluralistic World
Chapter: 6. Nostalgia, Trauma, and the Numinous: Twentieth-Century Jewish Readings of Rudolf Otto’s Das Heilige
Over the course of the twentieth century, Rudolf Otto’s Das Heilige (translated as The Idea of the Holy) was widely cited in Jewish religious thought, including Orthodox thought, to affirm the existential immediacy of revelation, even in a modern secular age. Other modern Jewish thinkers retained some liberal wariness of, even antipathy to, numinous experience as a threat to the moral integrity of the holy. But those alienated from the tradition after the modernization, and later eradication, of European Jewish life, were particularly receptive to Otto’s account of the numinous. Otto’s romanticism named their nostalgic encounter with Jewish observance as a primarily aesthetic experience of the uncanny: something both repudiated and longed for; something present in its absence. In the post-Holocaust era, several theologians made further use of Otto’s account of the morally equivocal numinous to (more or less) reconcile a loving God with the mysterium horrendum of the Holocaust.